This Week’s NY Happenings: LUCKYRICE, Taste Of The Nation, Manon

NOW: The Mother Of All Rice Fests Returns
LUCKYRICE is back in New York and ready to celebrate all things Asian with a superstar lineup. Tonight is the kickoff, with Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese, and it’s already sold out. Fortunately other tickets remain, as the festival tours through ramen with Chuko, Filipino food with Umi Nom, and a cabana night market at The Maritime Hotel. On Thursday night the focus shifts to “chef cocktails.” Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto hosts while luminaries from Experimental Cocktail Club, Macao Trading Co., and his own Tribeca Canvas put Asian accents on some very fine sips.

LUCKYRICE kicks off tonight, April 29th. Cocktail Feast: A Journey East starts at 8pm on Thursday, May 2nd, at The Bowery Hotel (335 Bowery, East Village). Tickets for the cocktails are $40. To learn more aboutt he hotel, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides. Photo by Parliament of Owls.

NOW: Taste Of The Nation
Seventy of the city’s best bars and restaurants will all be in one place tonight as the 26th annual Taste of the Nation goes off at 82MERCER. Players like ACME, Pouring Ribbons, and The Dead Rabbit are only the beginning, and all proceeds go to fighting childhood hunger.

Taste of the Nation starts at 7:30pm on Thursday, April 25th, at 82MERCER (82 Mercer St., Soho). General admission tickets are $225 ($185 is tax-deductible). To learn more about the event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

WEDNESDAY: Manon Opens In Meatpacking
Moscow’s Cafe Pushkin peeps take another stab at NYC with glossy Meatpacking triplex Manon. The kitchen is run by a former Public hand, working up seasonal ingredients with international accents. Industrial ironwork meets chandeliers on the glossy interior. Opulence, it has it.

Manon (407 W. 14th St., Meatpacking District) opens Wednesday, May 1st. To learn more about the restaurant and lounge, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

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Sipping Powers John’s Lane Whiskey at the Dead Rabbit

What do you know about Powers Irish Whiskey? I’ll admit that I didn’t know much before last night, when I showed up at the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in way-the-hell-downtown Manhattan for a party to launch its newest expression, Powers John’s Lane Release. I knew that it was a favorite of working class Irish blokes, and that people like my friend Ted are fanatically devoted to it ("It’s the only whiskey I drink," he says). But I didn’t know that it’s one of Ireland’s oldest and most respected spirits (est. 1791), and that Americans are familiar with Jameson but not Powers simply because of a marketing decision made back in the 1960s. I learned all this and more while sitting at a very small table on the second floor of one of New York’s most unique saloons, listening to seventh generation Powers distiller John Ryan talk about its history and heritage. Interesting man, that John Ryan. Just don’t interrupt him when he’s talking, and don’t try to steal the spotlight. "I’ll make the jokes here," Ryan admonished the assembly of journalists more than once.

It was a fine introduction to a fine spirit. We started by sampling Powers Gold Label, the iconic classic available in every bar in Ireland. It’s a silky smooth pour, flavorful, easy to drink, and, at $29, a great value. No wonder it’s so popular. Then we moved onto the new Powers John’s Lane ($70), named after the John’s Lane Distillery in Dublin. It’s a fancier whiskey, but no less approachable. John’s Lane is a pot still whiskey, aged for not less than 12 years, with amazing chocolate and toffee aromas and flavors of vanilla, honey, and spice. To sip it is to drink in the very essence of Ireland. It’s sublime.

So sublime, in fact, that it makes me wonder why upscale Irish whiskeys aren’t viewed with the same reverence as scotches are in America. As Ryan explained, much of this has to do with Ireland’s skittish attitude toward exporting its whiskey in the wake of America’s great experiment with the prohibition of alcohol.

Americans like JFK’s dad Joe Kennedy, for example, rightly predicted the end of Prohibition and attempted to place a large order with Irish whiskey makers, to be ready to sell to thirsty yanks once the twenty-first amendment was ratified. Not wanting to antagonize the U.S. government, the Irish whiskey makers declined to take the order, and Kennedy continued on to Scotland, which harbored no such reservations. Kennedy soon became a major importer of Haig & Haig Scots Whisky, earning himself a fortune.

And so Scotch gained a foothold in America, while Irish whiskey stayed in Ireland until the 1960s, when the first major export push happened. Since Jameson already had some name recognition, it received the bulk of the attention, and only now are other Irish whiskeys such as Powers starting to catch up.

Perhaps it’s for the best. For U.S.-based whiskey enthusiasts such as myself, it’s a joy to discover new spirits that rival the classics I’ve been drinking for years. And so the next time you’re tempted to pick up a smoky bottle of Scotch for that special occasion, consider an upscale Irish malt like Powers John’s Lane instead. Who knows, maybe you’ll wind up a Powers devotee yourself, and drink nothing else. If, like my friend Ted, you’re going to pick one spirit and stick with it for life, you could do a lot worse.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listing for the Dead Rabbit; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter